Friday, April 21, 2017

Major automotive and IT companies urge President Trump to support FTC case against Qualcomm

I just received--and wanted to immediately share--an open letter addressed by major automotive and information and communications technology companies to President Donald J. Trump, urging him to shield the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from political interference that could derail the ongoing antitrust litigation in the Northern District of California against Qualcomm (this post continues below the document):

17-04-20 Multi-Stakeholder SEP White House Letter by Florian Mueller on Scribd

The letter was signed by two industry associations--ACT | The App Association (whose sponsor members include Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, AT&T and others) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers--as well as ten companies including, notably, HP, Dell, Intel, Juniper, and--lo and behold--Samsung Electronics America, Inc.

Samsung's participation is particularly interesting. I was probably the most Samsung-critical blogger when I believed Samsung was trying to gain too much leverage from its own standard-essential patents (SEP) against Apple in multiple jurisdictions, but I was and (despite my intent to be a good citizen of the iOS ecosystem as I plan to launch my first app in a couple of months) still am among the most Apple-critical ones with respect to the merits and especially the requested remedies over certain design and software patents. It was a good thing that Samsung abandoned its SEP claims against Apple, but it wasn't enough. After Samsung stopped doing the wrong thing, I always wanted it to do the right thing and combat SEP abuse. Its support of an industry coalition in Europe (relating to the future Unified Patent Court) was a first significant step. I'm so happy to see that Samsung is now more proactive on that front than ever.

Last year then-candidate Trump publicly declared himself a Samsung user as he was angry with Apple for its lack of cooperation with the FBI in connection with an act of terrorism. Having been a Trump supporter (a fact I have mentioned several times on this blog and as anyone following me on Twitter can tell) since 2015, a Samsung Galaxy user since 2010 and an iPhone user since 2014, I paid attention. Now I hope his advisers, who obviously know about his predilection for Samsung phones, will also tell him about Samsung's signature of this Qualcomm-related open letter.

If the Korean antitrust findings relating to Samsung's Exynos baseband chipset are accurate, and considering that Samsung's margins in the mobile phone business are much tighter than Apple's, Samsung may have suffered from Qualcomm's conduct to an even greater extent than Apple. And while those two companies account for a significant part of this industry, there are many other companies of all sizes that have a problem with Qualcomm's (and some other SEP owners') practices.

The final part of the first paragraph of yesterday's open letter comes across as an expression of huge concern: "we hope that the FTC's lawsuit filed on January 20, 2017 in federal court in California will be allowed to run its course without prejudice or political interference."

Judge Lucy Koh has just set a schedule for that antitrust litigation, and it's a reasonably ambitious one. Apparently there are industry players who see some lobbying going on by Qualcomm and possibly other SEP abusers seeking to derail the FTC lawsuit. There is a political risk here since the FTC filed its case in the last days of the Obama Administration, which I think was a disaster for various other reasons (such as its positioning against law enforcement officers, its irresponsible accumulation of debt, and its refusal to even acknowledge the problem of radical Islamic terrorism), but which despite all else made two really good decisions regarding SEPs: the veto of an ITC import ban and the FTC complaint against Qualcomm. It will be important to explain to the Trump Administration that the FTC case is worth pursuing--they should even double down on it--even if other parts of Obama's legacy are not. Simply put, FRAND is also a conservative cause, and Republican lawmakers have supported it before. Combating SEP abuse is perfectly consistent with the promise to Make America Great Again, as the final paragraph of the letter (without specifically mentioning MAGA) stresses:

"In short, the impartial and substantive determination of an FTC action in a U.S. court is critical to supporting a successful U.S. market and U.S. business environment. Such a process is, in the end, good for the U.S. economy and job market. We encourage the administration to support this robust agency and court process." (emphasis added)

On page 2 of the letter, the signatories note that they "take no position here on the merits of this case," but their concern is not about the merits: it's all about politics.

I wish those companies didn't even see a need to write that kind of letter. It suggests to me that there are some Washington machinations going on that could benefit the abusers and hurt companies that make real products. Such as the direct (for example, Samsung) and indirect (for example, Apple) signatories...

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